Rounding Third: How Baseball Has Shaped The American Identity

Rounding Third

Take one for the team. Knock it out of the park. Right off the bat. These expressions are more than basic baseball terms, they’re woven into the fabric of our culture. And just like these well-known phrases, it’s impossible to think of the history and the evolution of the game without reminiscing of the great players in the past. Players like Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Fernando Valenzuela, Roberto Clemente, Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax did more than set records. They acted as historic role models and influentials leaders for entire generations. At times, they questioned our positions on race and immigration. At other times, they’ve movably forced our culture’s perception of what it means to be American.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Skirball Cultural Center’s latest exhibit: Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American. The exhibit, which opened in April, features more than 100 artifacts, including uniforms, equipment, even stadium seats. The exhibit also features interactive displays, videos, and a host of quotes and readings from the game’s legendary figures.

Chasing Dreams Co-curator and NMAJH Associate Curator Ivy Weingram sums it up nicely:

“For many, the sport has served as a path to learning, negotiating, sharing in and even challenging what it means to be American, and it has enabled those who might otherwise be on the margins to feel every bit a part of American life.”

 

For more than a century, baseball has done just that: it’s helped thousands of players, coaches, scouts, and fans find their identity and a community in a new land.

We owe a great deal to the sport. Perhaps what makes the sport so inherently American–so beloved–is the reflective thread that we all can embrace. It’s the hallmark of the game and of the journey made by so many immigrants: we’re all trying to make our way home.  

The exhibit runs parallel with the the baseball’s current season and was pitched to cities with a deep history of the game.

“Baseball has offered immigrant communities, including Jews and other minorities, opportunities to feel American, whether they’re on the field or in the stands,” stated Weingram.

Los Angeles is no different.

Minor league clubs ruled the pacific coast from the 1920’s to the early 50’s, when the Brooklyn Dodgers made Los Angeles their new home. In the years following, the team hosted several baseball notables, including Sandy Koufax, the first to pitch a perfect game.

Perhaps it’s the narrative of the game that captures us. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the rules, the un-flashy, bat-to-ball movement that propels us to swing harder, run faster, return home. Baseball is more than a pastime; it’s uniquely defined so many of our stories.

Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American runs through October 30, 2016. Catch the exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, CA.  Tickets are $12 for adults, and free to all on Thursdays.

The exhibit was originally prepared by the National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia, Pa.

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